Report: Where Loudoun Co. schools fell short in handling of sexual assaults by same student

Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia took an “overly narrow view” of its Title IX responsibilities, according to the findings of a review of how the school system handled two in-school sexual assaults by the same student in 2021.

A judge ruled that the report was to be made public Thursday, even after the school system argued it was covered under attorney-client privilege and should not be shared with the public.

After the first sexual assault at Stone Bridge High School on May 28, 2021, the school system shouldn’t have delayed its Title IX complaint investigation, despite the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office suggesting it do so, the report said.

The school system, according to the report, believed an agreement with law enforcement prevented it from launching its own investigation into the Stone Bridge sexual assault while the Sheriff’s Office looked into the case.

Loudoun County schools, according to the report, also should have conducted a threat assessment of the student responsible after the first assault. The same student was involved in a second incident at Broad Run High School later on Oct. 6, 2021. They have since been charged and convicted in both cases.

The school system has been scrutinized for its handling of the cases, which ultimately led to the firing of former superintendent Scott Ziegler in December. The assaults and Ziegler’s handling of them drew national headlines, and were a focal point for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign.

The report details how school leaders responded to both sexual assaults and suggests the school system has too restrictive of an interpretation of Title IX.

The Stone Bridge case

On May 28, 2021, the victim and perpetrator at Stone Bridge High School both had e-passes excusing them from class at the same time. The report describes the perpetrator as someone who exhibited “some history of maladaptive behavior,” and according to an Individualized Education Plan had issues with “self-regulation, work completion, compliance, and off-task behavior.”

They met in the girls’ bathroom on the science floor, according to the report, where the victim was assaulted in a bathroom stall.

There was no evidence, though, that the perpetrator identified as female or wore a skirt or kilt to gain access to the girls’ bathroom, according to the report.

The victim went to the main office with a friend and explained what happened. The school’s resource officer was told about the incident and alerted her parents. In a “confidential” email, the report said, the Stone Bridge principal then informed the school board.

After the victim reported the assault, the sheriff’s office took over the investigation, and school leaders thought the memorandum of understanding between the sheriff’s office, Leesburg Police and the school system prevented them from investigating the allegations while the sheriff’s office did so.

The Director of School administration, the report said, described a time when a sheriff’s deputy threatened to arrest him for advancing an investigation while deputies looked into the same incident.

When kids returned to school after Memorial Day, the report says there were limited supportive measures in place for the victim.

Even after the victim’s mother told the director of school administration that the perpetrator had been charged, the county was reluctant to launch its own investigation. In one instance, the Title IX coordinator said the school system couldn’t look into the assault because it was an instance of “attempted sexual assault, which is not under Title IX.”

When a late August court order prevented the perpetrator from attending Stone Bridge High, the school system told the perpetrator’s mother that the school’s principal recommended an involuntary transfer to Broad Run.

In the course of its investigation, the firm reviewed an exchange between the victim and another Stone Bridge student. The victim confronted her friend about a rumor that the friend had also been the victim of nonconsensual sex with the same perpetrator.

The friend confirmed the rumor was true but refused to report it.

What happened at Broad Run

The Stone Bridge principal did tell the Broad Run principal about the involuntary transfer, according to the report, and on Aug. 31, school leadership held a meeting with the perpetrator and his mother.

A court order prevented the perpetrator from accessing the internet, so school leaders decided they wouldn’t provide him with a county-issued Chromebook computer. However, after the perpetrator had difficulty completing some assignments without the device, a Chromebook was later issued.

Before the October assault, the perpetrator was accused of bothering a female student during class, grabbing her shoulder and asking if she ever posted nude photos of other people online, the report said.

After a school investigation, the school “imposed discipline of a reprimand.”

On Oct. 6, the perpetrator pushed the victim into an empty classroom and assaulted her, the report said. A friend brought her to the office to tell school leaders what happened.

On Oct. 14, 2021, the Title IX coordinator told the second victim’s parents that it would be conducting a Title IX investigation into the incident. Then, on Oct. 21, it informed those involved of plans to conduct a Title IX investigation into the Stone Bridge incident.

School board responds

While the school system has taken some steps to address concerns outlined in the report, such as creating a Title IX reporting form and updating polices and regulations, it says there are still some things it needs to address.

For one, the report says, the county should conduct an immediate initial assessment of allegations that could involve Title IX issues, and ensure timely completion of the Title IX process.

Since the start of the 2021-22 school year, the report said, there have been 159 reports of incidents for evaluation under Title IX. However, none have been determined to meet the threshold needed to investigate.

“Counsel has some concern that the Title IX office may be employing a too restrictive interpretation of Title IX,” the report said.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said the root of his investigation into the school system was to “uncover the truth and provide answers to millions of concerned Virginians.”

He said the report was paid for by taxpayers, and both “Virginians” and the county board of supervisors wanted it released, despite the school board’s objection.

“I’m pleased today that the court granted my motion to unseal the report. While this should have been made public in the very beginning, it is nevertheless a victory for transparency, accountability, and parents everywhere,” Miyares said.

The Loudoun County School Board said in a statement that it maintains its stance.

“While the School Board maintains that the report is subject to the attorney-client privilege, is attorney work product, and contains sensitive information pertaining to identifiable students, it believes it is in the interest of the families of Loudoun not to contest this ruling,” the school board said.

The school board said that it has taken “significant actions” since the assaults in 2021, including personnel, organizational and policy changes, among others.

“The Board is dedicated to continuing to work with families and the larger LCPS community to address concerns, continuously improve, and rebuild trust,” stated School Board Chair Ian Serotkin.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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